The breakthrough of this recipe is not so much the pizza itself — brilliant as it is — nor even the wonderfully thin and workable dough. Rather, the revelation found here is the methodology of baking the pizza itself.
Until now, our homemade pizza has been an ongoing experimentation that’s dabbled with stones, grills, bricks and even dedicated slabs of pizza steel (see bakingsteel.com). A primary struggle has been the even cooking of a pizza’s top and bottom. While a pizza stone or steel (the latter being preferred for its durability and superior thermal management) has done admirably in cooking a crust quickly, thereby achieving a much sought after crispy/chewy result, its lightning hot cooking speed far outpaces that of the toppings. Leaving one with either under melted mozzarella atop that golden crust, or melty mozzarella atop an overly charred crust. Where was the middle ground?
Andrew Janjigian, one of the scientific culinary geniuses of Cook’s Illustrated, experimented his way toward this methodology that achieves both perfect crust and and properly prepared toppings. The linchpin of it all is the placement of the stone or steel. As Janjigian states: “Most recipes call for the stone to be placed as low in the oven as possible, where it gets maximum exposure to the main heating element. But when I thought about it, that technique didn’t really make sense.”
Janjigian goes on to explain that commercial pizza ovens’ wide, shallow chambers “quickly reflect heat from the floor back onto the top of the pie as it cooks, preventing the crust from drying out before the toppings have browned.” In best mimicking this pizza cooking environment — short of splashing out big money for a dedicated pizza cooking apparatus (maybe someday, in our dreams, in a much larger kitchen), the solution is rather simple: place the stone or steel in the upper quadrant of the oven, “about 4 inches or so from the [oven’s] ceiling.” The result was, in Janjigian’s words, “a revelation: Everything had baked in sync, producing a pizza that was thoroughly crispy, well-browned on both top and bottom, and slightly chewy just like a good parlor slice.”
It would be difficult to disagree with the chef. After creating and enjoying four pizzas made with this method, each has impressed with perfectly baked pizzas, crust and toppings. The dough requires a prolonged proof period, but the resulting crust is spot on.
3 cups (16½ oz) bread flour (yes, bread flour, for its higher protein content)
2 tsp sugar (for increased crust browning)
½ tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1⅓ cup ice water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1½ tsp salt
1 can of tomatoes (28oz)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground pepper
Using a food processor combine the flour, sugar and yeast (quick half-dozen pulses). With the processor continuing to run, trickle in the ice water until the dough no longer appears dry. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Next, pulse in the oil and salt and process “until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 30 to 60 seconds,” as Janjigian explains. Knead the dough for one minute on a lightly oiled surface; form into a ball; place into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough proof in the refrigerator for 24 to 72 hours.
During the dough’s proofing, the sauce may be made at anytime as this recipe results in a surplus of sauce, and the excess will keep for many days. Merely process all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
An hour prior to baking the pizza preheat oven and stone/steal to 500 degrees. Divide the proofed dough in half; form into two spheres; place on lightly oiled surface; allow to come to room temp.
After an hour, flour one of the doughs and begin to work with fingertips into an 8” disk. Transfer dough to a generously floured pizza peel and proceed to gently stretch the disk into a 12-13” round. Evenly spread ½+ cup of sauce over dough round; top with cheeses (Burrata and Parmesan recommended) and any additional ingredients desired. With thin crust pizza, recall that less is more.
Carefully transfer pizza from peel to stone or steal. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, rotating pizza 180 degrees halfway through for more even baking. Finish with broiler if more cheese melting is desired. Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes prior to serving with basil and an Italian wine of your choosing. Repeat with dough for second pizza.